Why I Voice critical perspectives of Neo-tantra

Fudo-Myoo – Japanese Buddhist Dharma Protector

Recently, on a conscious sexuality whatsapp group where I have become notorious for my sometimes abrasive and cutting commentary, I received a challenging and critical remark from a fellow tantrika when I dismissed a poorly-researched and fanciful youtube video on kundalini – circulated by someone who has espoused noxious antisemitism and holocaust denialism.

The remark raised many issues, and made it clear to me that it would be useful to explain the background informing my views, the tone with which I express them, and the rationale for my critical perspectives. This post is an attempt to do so and to respond to various points in that remark, which I quote in the body of this post.

Flo, one of the risks of having a “I’ve seen it all before” attitude is that sometimes you make an opinion based on past beliefs and then over time those beliefs get upgraded which is why it’s good to revisit old axioms upon which world views or positions are made

Yes, our systems of belief often blind us to novelty and potentially interesting perspectives. However, my interpretation of media on tantra and sacred sexuality is informed by my training as a critical social scientist. As such, I analyse stories using particular conceptual tools developed by the theoretical traditions of sociology, anthropology and history. In particular, I employ the lenses of political economy, biopolitics and gender studies to illuminate sacred sexuality and its evolution in “Western” culture. As a professional who works with these ideas all the time, I very quickly notice patterns of reasoning which have been long debunked in academic circles but still circulate widely in popular opinion.

Why do I analyse stories so critically? Well, stories are used to construct and affirm ideologies – more or less coherent worldviews which legitimise and enforce relationships of power by getting people to internalise so deeply that these stories inform their sense of identity and with it, their role and conduct in relation to others. This is the essence of what Foucault called biopower which served to keep social relations of inequality, exploitation and violence stable despite states’ inability to directly control their subjects.

To the extent that ideologies affirm violent and exploitative relationships of power, they constitute a form of cognitive coercion and violence. Theories of racial identity and superiority which informed apartheid are one example of an ideology which continues to inflict violence even decades after the political system of apartheid ended. The notion of a free market economy is another ideology used to justify the ongoing rape and destruction of ecosystems and indigenous cultures in the name of “progress” and “liberty” when in fact it serves only to enrich and empower already powerful transnational elites.

I’ve noticed (correct me if I’m wrong) you have a hostile attitude to Eurocentric “religion” leading to a world view where there tyrannical patriarchy with power dynamics and other brainwashing tech.

Yes, for the reasons explained above, I am hostile towards worldviews and ideologies which legitimise exploitation and violence, and tend not to be polite about my criticisms. Patriarchy – systems of power which privilege older male-bodied people – is a particularly powerful and violent tradition of oppression and exploitation which has, over the past 7000 years of judaeo-christian ascendancy, devastated the planet and harmed millions. Politeness and subtlety makes ongoing violence far too easy, as 6 million jews experienced as a consequence of Chamberlain’s appeasement politics in Europe of the 1930s. Our current planetary ecological devastation also has not benefited from the politeness or scholarly subtlety of climate scientists.

The language you use is based on this tech to subtly or not so subtly exert power by reframing events and dynamics based on your world view and brute force intellectualism. Personally this sometimes grates me and I don’t usually have the intellectual acumen or time to think it through nor type it out with my 2 thumbs

Yes, I make use of my training and discursive capabilities to critique violent narratives sharply – and my world view is not arbitrary, but is informed by a thorough engagement with historical and sociological research on these topics. I am sorry if this comes across as brute-force intellectualism or a form of bullying. Another aspect of academic training is that we learn not to identify too closely with our own perspectives, but to recognise that they are always provisional, open to critique, and subject to revision based on new evidence and perspectives.

I see our western culture like a technology. It espoused some of the greatest (and worst) ideas the world has ever seen and the fact that I’m alive and allowed to even say this is miraculous.

Indeed, but I see “western culture” not as a coherent technology, but rather as a continually shifting and evolving assemblage of different ideas, technologies and enduring infrastructure (eg architecture, urban form, landscapes). Many of the most beautiful aspects of this culture are not originally Western, but have been copied, borrowed, or stolen from other cultural milieus. Some aspects of it, including our openness to critical and incisive debate, are indeed to be cherished and defended.

We all come from that western culture where it’s “religions” where at the foundation of those ideas and critiquing it is a little like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

This is simply factually wrong. Yes, religious institutions in some cases preserved knowledge that contributed to the cognitive wealth accumulated by European cultures, but at least as often, they suppressed it in order to protect patriarchal power vested in clerical bureaucracies. Many leading thinkers and philosophers lost their lives in the struggle for knowledge, including such notables as Hypatia and Giordano Bruno.

I would say it’s impossible to separate our sense of identity from that culture. And if you decide to take that on you do so at your peril. See the lament from Nietzsche papers on “god is dead” and his predictions of the rise of communism and the 100 millions of deaths that followed. (Not getting into this debate)

I would argue that, it is one of the fundamental goals of tantra to separate our identity from our culture, as culture implants in our minds the constructs which are used to keep power structures in place. Classical non-dual shaiva tantra calls these vikalpas, which are to be destroyed without attachment and replaced with accurate or pure constructs more closely aligned with ultimate, non-dual truth that points towards the fundamental interconnectedness and unity of consciousness and life. This is the awe-inspiring view which is revealed when we have stripped away all the delusive, culturally conditioned egoic identity constructs that ordinarily distort our perception.

So naturally attempts by others to merge different thoughts together by finding parallels in our own culture is “useful” for those who don’t have context or exposure to those “foreign” ideas in the east. Which are also equally mind opening in different ways.

Problematic for me, in the original video critiqued, was the shoe-horning of the notion of kundalini within Christian myths of genesis and the serpent and within kabbalistic/gnostic ideas of the tree of life. Although the parallels in imagery are striking and may provide an interesting entry-point for people operating from within a Christian worldview, this completely tears the idea of kundalini out of its historical context and the sophisticated philosophical/religious frameworks within which it emerged. This is a kind of intellectual colonialism which is part of the violence by which technologies, ideas and societies have been dismembered and subjugated to exploitation by patriarchal elites.

I agree with Shinzen Young when he observes that the western thought lead to us “mastering” our “outer” world through our scientific exploits. (Repeatable steps and manuals) The eastern thought has helped us understand and lead us to “master” our “inner” world. (Use of repeatable steps and Teachings)Paraphrasing here read his book on the science of enlightenment)
But Both can support each other and regardless of how we debate and joust. Let’s always remind each other to espouse kindness and respect for everyone’s journey.

As someone pursuing a non-dual tantrik path informed not only by classical non-dual shaiva tantra, dzogchen, vajrayana and daoism, but also by anthropological theory, I am cautious about any frame of reference which constructs and contrasts binaries, eg East vs West, science vs mysticism, emotions vs reason, inner vs outer, right vs wrong, good vs bad. These binary constructs inevitably over-simplify a reality which is scintillating, dynamic, complex and interwoven. We need better language and metaphors than this. While I retain my commitment to robust dialogue, I agree with the call for kindness and respect for people.

I consider you an elder here and value your input thoroughly because sometimes the underlying western ideology you have is in natural opposition to mine. (Not the eastern teachings. I like those)
However it’s this that gives me the chance to revisit my views over and over again. So gratitude 🙏

I appreciate these reflections and agree that that the exploration of these different perspectives can be very illuminating to all, and can contribute to our ultimate liberation from limiting concepts and the systemic constructs that continue to exploit and destroy, and to cultivate a world based on truth and love.

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